Thailand's Seafood Industry: A Case Of State-Sanctioned Slavery?

Felicity Lawrence | The Guardian | June 10, 2014

Slavery is illegal, yet it is driving Thailand's growth – so why are retailers, producers and governments alike turning a blind eye?

Slavery is illegal in every country in the world. Yet slavery – the sort of state-sanctioned chattel slavery we thought we'd abolished about 200 years ago – is just what the Guardian has uncovered in the Thai fishing industry. We have established that prawns – shrimp, as they are known in the US – reach our supermarket shelves off the back of it.

This sort of slavery, in which people are bought and sold like commodities, subjected to extreme violence, held against their will and forced to work for no pay, is supposed to have been eradicated. Appalling revelations about the trafficking of people for domestic servitude and sexual exploitation remain disturbingly familiar, but we thought slavery at the heart of mainstream global economic activity was over.

The slavery in Thailand's fishing industry is doubly shocking because it is what the country's GDP is built on. Seafood is one of the main exports that have driven south-east Asian growth.